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AmeriCorps VISTA

Moving Towards Food Sovereignty

12.09.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food for Others, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Virginia

Maheyaar Barron is the Gleaning and Produce Recovery Coordinator at Food for Others, a food bank and pantry located in Fairfax, Virginia. The organization services the northern region of the state through a multitude of programs such as emergency food aid, weekend meals for elementary school children, neighborhood site deliveries, and community partner support. The gleaning program, which began in 2017 in partnership with Harvest Against Hunger, connects local growers to families in need, bringing in fresh produce directly from farms, farmers markets, and community gardens.

Many have heard the saying: “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” The origin of this quote is hotly contested, but its validity is most certainly not. Self-sufficiency is a sure way to promote better health outcomes within a community, decreasing the need for the emergency band-aid solutions that are all too prevalent. But what happens when the person knows how to fish, but has no body of water nearby, or no bait or tackle? What then?

In Northern Virginia, land availability is both scarce and expensive. Community gardens have long waiting lists with high yearly fees, and limited public transport decreases the number of available options. This is bad news for the regions 148,850 food-insecure families, who have the cards stacked against them with high rent, low wages, and limited resources.

Through their VISTA program, Food for Others is looking to promote preventative measure in the fight against hunger and is making an active effort to open up land to hungry families. The organizations have two plots located at Peace Lutheran Church in Alexandria, and currently boast 16 raised beds, high fencing, and hand-painted designs. As of now, 5 families occupy 10 of beds, with the remainder being run by a partner, Food Uniting Neighbors. The families get to keep their beds as long they want and are able to choose the produce of their choice. Food for Others provides funding for seeds, soil, equipment, etc. as well as Master Gardeners in case there is a technical question. The gardens are in their 3rd year of operation and have grown over 414 lbs this summer.

The goal of this project is to give families the ability to make decisions for themselves, opting for a less paternalistic approach. The results include the growing of more culturally relevant foods, longer-term health benefits, and dignity. It also means five fewer families that will be coming to Food for Others for emergency aid.

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MEET YOUR MEAT: WASHINGTON MEAT UP CONFERENCE AND THE ROLE OF FOOD ACCESS IN NICHE MEAT PRODUCTION

04.09.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Clallam County, Harvest VISTA, Washington Site, WSU Extension Office

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Benji Astrachan serves at the WSU Clallam County Extension in Port Angeles, WA. Building off of the highly successful VISTA-founded Clallam Gleaners program, Benji is in the first year of research and development of a glean processing program that will capture excess gleaned produce to process into shelf-stable items. By donating these processed items back to the food banks, food waste can be diverted into delicious food products, food banks can cut disposal costs and save valuable storage space and community members can learn new food preservation skills while working to increase access to local and healthy foods. Benji is also preparing to launch a community meal program to teach cooking skills and increase access to healthy meals while coordinating with the Hot Foods Recovery Program to save prepared foods from landfills. Through these projects, Benji and the WSU Extension seek to educate and empower the local community through increasing knowledge and access, while reducing food insecurity and waste in Clallam County.

Last week, Benji had the opportunity to attend a brand new conference called the Washington Meat Up, being hosted for the first time by the WSU Food Systems Program. This conference is based off the successful Cascadia Grains conference model and seeks to become a new interface for niche meat producers, processors, regulators, researchers, restauranteurs, and everyone else involved in the local meat industry to come together and discuss successes and challenges in their work.

After a casual 4am start from Port Angeles – the joys of Peninsula living! – Benji arrived with a local farmer and meat producer at the Seattle Culinary Institute, and immediately set off for the morning field trip. With a group of actors from across the industry, he visited Jubilee Farm, Falling Rivers Meats and Carnation Farm in the Carnation Valley to learn about some local meat operations and get an in-depth look into the ins and outs of sustainable and small-scale meat production.

The afternoon consisted of a series of break-out workshops and larger group discussions in which folks from every side of the niche meats industry mixed and discussed their roles, successes, and challenges within their work. It was an excellent opportunity for industry regulators and producers – people commonly pitted against each other by messy bureaucracy and sticky regulation laws – to get together and find common ground in their desire for local meat production. Of the different challenges, what clearly rose to the top was the need for increased access to USDA and WSDA-certified slaughter and cut-and-wrap operations for small-scale producers, who often end up having to spend incredible amounts of time and money traveling across the state to use these services. Other major concerns included the lack of consumer education on the difference between industrial and local meat. With a rising vegan movement and calls for giving up meat consumption to save the environment, the discussion is missing the nuance and differentiation necessary to identify local and small-scale meat producers – who provide essential ecosystem services, follow human practices and take good care of their animals and land – from industrial factory-farm meat producers – who generally fail on those same accounts. Although not directly involved in the meat industry, Benji was able to offer an important food access perspective to the discussion. While many niche meat producers struggle to educate their consumers on why their products need to and should cost more than industrial meat, the topic of how to get good local meat to those who genuinely can’t afford it has also largely been untouched. Benji had some excellent discussions with these meat producers and processors about the realities of eating on a SNAP budget and the difficulties of justifying more expensive meat purchases when faced with an unwavering financial bottom line.

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Lessons Learned from August Gleaning Season on an Island

28.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Food Bank, Gleaning, Harvest VISTA, Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA Cassidy Berlin serves as program coordinator between the Vashon Maury Island Community Food Bank and the Food Access Partnership. FAP is a program of the Vashon Island Growers Association and strives to make local food more accessible to community members while fairly compensating farmers. This collaboration draws surplus island harvests to the food bank to combat economic obstacles that prevent fresh, local produce from being a staple in 1 in 7 island homes.

Harvest for Vashon Program Coordinator Cassidy Berlin has wasted no time in taking extra produce off of growers’ hands this month. From tiny raspberry patches to scorching greenhouses overflowing with tomatoes, Cassidy and a team of volunteers have gleaned over 1,000lbs of fruits and vegetables from the properties of gardeners and farmers. One bewildered community member reached out with a plea for help. She moved her family to Vashon island this Spring and was aghast at how many plums the tree in her new backyard was producing. “We are eating, dehydrating, and canning as many as we can, and it hasn’t made a dent! Can you come (to glean) twice this week?”

The Vashon Food Bank faces the same challenge as many local gardeners: at one point during the season, the produce section is overflowing with ripe tomatoes, plums, squash, and greens. Not all produce leftover after a week of distribution will maintain its freshness until next week. Is there an alternative to donating it to local pig farmers? An August field trip to Food Lifeline’s warehouse provided an answer.

Beginning this September, the Vashon Food Bank will start sending extra island produce to Food Lifeline to redistribute to other food banks in the area; specifically, food banks that don’t currently have access to untreated, locally grown tree fruit. Cases of yellow plums, seckel pears, and snacking-variety apples will be redistributed to food insecure populations in greater King County. In the same spirit as national “Sneak Some Zucchini onto your Neighbor’s Porch Day” (celebrated August 8th), Harvest for Vashon promotes the adage that sharing is caring. 

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Filling in the Gaps: Building A Refugee Community Garden

21.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest VISTA, IRC, Volunteering, Washington Site

“Harvest Against Hunger Americorps VISTA Hailey Baker serves at the International Rescue Committee in SeaTac, WA. The IRC helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. Hailey works with the New Roots program, a community garden and food access program within the IRC that helps individuals and families adjust to their new home through gardening, nutrition education, orientation to U.S. food systems, and youth leadership activities.”

A rainy morning greeted Harvest VISTA Hailey Baker on the morning of August 10th, a day destined to be dirty and tiring. She and her team at the International Rescue Committee had been putting in long hours at St. James Episcopal Church in Kent, WA, the site of the IRC’s newest refugee community garden. Over 600 feet of irrigation lines had been installed at the site the week before, and the open trenches in which they sat waited patiently to be refilled.

Hailey had organized one final work party to finish the trench refill, reaching out to the IRC’s long list of on-call volunteers to come out and help. When Hailey drove up to the site with a van full of tools at 9:30am, the rain was just starting to ease, the sun poking its way through the clouds inch by inch. She half expected the rain to scare away the 17 volunteers who had signed up to help.

She needn’t have worried. By quarter past 10am, 15 of the 17 volunteers had shown up, eager to work. They all grabbed shovels and pickaxes and jumped right in, slinging dirt from nearby piles into the gaping irrigation trenches. As they worked, they chatted and laughed, amazed at how much they all had in common. Stories of travel, jobs, hometowns, and politics floated around the site. Strangers only hours before, by the end of the work party everyone had made at least one new friend while toiling in the dirt. During the mid-day break, Hailey led the group over to a nearby patch of blackberry bushes, where some volunteers picked fresh blackberries for the very first time.

By the end of the work party, nearly all of the remaining open trenches had been filled. Hailey was pleased to see all the work they had put in, but she was even more pleased by the moment of community they had all shared that morning. How better to build a community garden than in community?

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Harvest Share program promotes gardening education on the Palouse

14.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Community Action Center, Harvest Against Hunger, Harvest VISTA, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity Awareness VISTA Robyn Glessner serves at the Community Action Center (CAC) in Pullman, which has been an endless proponent and advocate for ending hunger through sustainable food production and community collaboration throughout the Palouse for 30 years. One of their mottos is, “solving local needs with local solutions”, which perfectly frames my desire to work in an area that provides relief with sustainable solutions at its center. The office also provides energy assistance, housing, and weatherization services, as well as a food pantry, community garden, and computers for WorkSource applicants. In tandem with the desire to connect local food-insecure communities with the food producers in the region, the CAC and the first-year VISTA created the Palouse Tables Project. Within the work of this project, the regional community had expressed a desire for educational opportunities open to the public focused on self-sufficiency, in the form of preparing and preserving their own foods and gardening. Along these lines, the Palouse Tables Project will continue by providing opportunities for education courses and materials by adapting curriculum and coursework and then training local volunteers to teach these skills to the public.

In June of this year, the Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Robyn Glessner began a Harvest Share program for local gardeners to meet once every two weeks to share their produce and gardening stories with one another. This program was created in tandem with the Koppel Community Garden in Pullman, where the host site Community Action Center has matched four clients with their own plot to garden on and grow their own food. These plots were generously donated for this purpose by a handful of fellow community members and gardeners. The Harvest Share program brings together clients and other community members from all walks of life to come together and find unity in growing food. The Koppel Community Garden board helped to cultivate this opportunity not only by facilitating gardeners to donate plots but by also including the opportunity to sign up for the harvest share within their general gardener application. Ten of the gardeners who grow at Koppel have signed up to participate in the harvest share for the coming weeks.

At this Harvest Share, gardeners brought in fresh sage, mint, chives, scallions, lacinato kale, cherries, strawberries, green garlic, salad greens, and garlic scapes. One of the community members shared that they had planted their garden this year in order to participate in this program and next year they want to plant an additional row or two so that more and more of our community members have access to fresh produce. This sentiment is at the heart of the work that the Community Food group at the Community Action Center moves to accomplish. Along with fruitful discussion made about each individuals gardening experiences this growing season, advice and experiences were swapped as well as boxes of produce. Each participant was able to pick and choose what they wanted to bring home with them. The Community Action Center provided recipe cards describing dishes that used the produce that was brought including such things as green garlic sauce, freezer jam, and chia jam. The participants from the Harvest Share were invited back for the next share at the Community Action Center, hoping to garner more and more participants in the weeks to come.

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Earth’s Table Builds on Partnership with Community Food Share to Fight Food Insecurity

08.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Colorado, Community Food Share, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Malik Salsberry serves at Community Food Share, a nonprofit located in Louisville, CO. This nonprofit is one of the five Feeding America food banks that help to serve all of Colorado and Wyoming. With Community Food Share’s focus being Boulder and Broomfield counties. This nonprofit makes its distinction from other food banks in the area by having a major focus on fresh produce and protein, with goals of 75% being fresh produce, fruits, and vegetables, and protein sources, like fresh milk, eggs, beans, and meat. Community Food Share supports other area food pantries as well as their own programs which serve different populations like children and the elderly.

Although this year has been seen as one of Colorado’s most wet years on record, Harvest VISTA Malik Salsberry is still finding space and participants to help collect and distribute fresh produce this season. Harvest VISTA Malik spent time connecting Conga, a large digital technology company, with Earth’s Table, one of Community Food Share’s long-time partners, together for a week of garden work. These gardening tasks may include weeding, planting, harvesting and cleaning produce, and other activities found around these spaces.

Finding these gardens isn’t a difficult task as they are cultivated on donated properties from community members, which is a part of the non-profit’s design. Earth’s Table gardens are all volunteer-powered. They connect over 100 volunteers to their gardens to help with planting, harvesting and managing the gardens. Conga was able to bring those numbers in one week by bringing around 120 volunteers to help harvest produce as Colorado starts to move toward late fall.

These volunteers carpooled and gathered at several of the different gardens, which are scattered all around the city of Boulder, and worked on harvesting zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, pole beans, beets, and other produce. This produce is directly distributed to Community Food Share and other non-profits in the area and is usually distributed the same or next day.

Since 1999, Earth’s Table has served as a consistent partner and supporter of Community Food Share and our Boulder and Broomfield Counties service area by providing fresh produce to our neighbors in need. Earth’s Table is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that is completely volunteer-run, including the management of the seven garden spaces that were donated for them to cultivate. Earth’s Table donates 100% of its produce to local non-profits, including over 42,000 pounds in 2018. Since their founding in 1999, Earth’s Table has donated nearly 250,000 pounds of produce to Community Food Share and several other non-profits within our service area.

The goal of the Garden Share Program is to help fight insecurity in Boulder and Broomfield counties by providing our participants with high-quality, locally grown produce.

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Southeast Produce Council Donates Fresh Produce in the Fight against Hunger

01.08.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Florida, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, Harvest VISTA, National Site, Society of Saint Andrew, Volunteering

Harvest Against Hunger Capacity VISTA Mykevia Jones serves at Society of Saint Andrew Florida, a nationwide, faith-based, ecumenical, nonprofit ministry operating a variety of programs that fight hunger in America. The Society of Saint Andrew’s gleaning network coordinates thousands of volunteers with local farmers to actually enter fields and groves after the harvest, and pick up the tons of good purchase left behind and distribute of these loads to large food banks. Thus far in 2019, our dedicated volunteers have collected 2,222,667 pounds of produce that have been distributed to 84 different agencies throughout the state of Florida.

As Society of St. Andrew Florida’s gleaning season comes to an end, Harvest VISTA Mykevia Jones gears up to coordinate the last fresh produce drop for the summer. While, Barbara Sayles, SOSA Florida’s Regional Director led a mission’s trip in Peru, Harvest VISTA, Mykevia handled the Fresh Harvest for Families event logistics which consisted of, multiple event location site visits, coordinate the produce truck delivery, volunteer correspondence, and produce distribution tracking.

A tractor-trailer load of grade A peaches, cucumbers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, and assorted mixed vegetables was donated by SOSA’s long-time partner, the Southeast Produce Council (SEPC). Twenty-three produce-filled pallets were delivered to St. Luke’s United Methodist Church parking lot. Over 300 youth from the Alliance Youth 2019 Life Conference came to volunteer and bag the fresh produce. The produce was then picked up and distributed by several food banks, including Second Harvest and Palm Beach Food Bank, local churches, and social service agencies.

In the last nine years, Society of St. Andrew’s partnership with SEPC has resulted in over 3.7 million servings of nutritious food distributed to hungry people across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Kentucky. To date, the SEPC has become the largest distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables to food-insecure individuals in the Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, and Palm Beach areas, feeding over 600 families!

The goal of the Fresh Harvest for Families event is notably to provide local food-insecure residents with fresh and nutritious produce.

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Discovering Food Justice: Under the Overgrown Garden

25.07.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Harvest Against Hunger, OIC of Washington, Volunteering, Washington Site

Harvest VISTA Gleaning Coordinator VISTA Mary Pearl Ivy serves at OIC of Washington, a non-profit organization providing community services through federal, state and local funding sources. Mary Pearl’s focus is with the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which aims to supplement the diets of low-income Americans including the elderly by providing them with food and nutrition assistance at no cost. In addition to the farm to table communications for the food bank, Mary Pearl recruit’s volunteers to work within a community garden, in hopes of providing access to knowledge and resources for individuals to grow their own fresh foods.

Within the first couple weeks of her service, Mary Pearl hosted three large groups of volunteers to revive the completely grass encroached community garden; and the results were mind-blowing. What started as a hands-on volunteer opportunity, with some games and a snack turned into a dialogue about food justice and social justice! The three groups of students with Quo’s Discovery Washington program visited OIC in addition to local orchards and organizations in the community. They were introduced to the concept of migrant workers in the field and wanted to know more about where their food comes from and what it means for a community to have food insecurity. The VISTA asked one of her colleagues that works with the National Farm Workers Association to come in and speak on the opportunities that they provide, as well as his own experiences in the field. The attentive observations and inputs that these seventh graders had to share were inspiring. One of the teachers even mentioned that the world was not giving youth enough credit.

The VISTA was especially touched when the students asked to stay and work in the garden longer. The students were plotting ways to help fundraise, stop food insecurity, and misconceptions in this community and their own. After all their hard work in the garden, it is now open enough to host younger groups of volunteers as well as community members. Thanks, Que for connecting us to these amazing, hardworking students and teachers!

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Gearing Up For Harvest!

17.07.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Gleaning, Harvest Against Hunger, SW WA, Urban Abundance, Washington Site

Harvest Against Hunger VISTA Lynsey Horne serves as program coordinator of Urban Abundance, a program of Slow Food SW WA in Vancouver, WA. Slow Food SW WA is an international organization that advocates for good, clean, fair food for all, and their program Urban Abundance’s mission is to engage neighbors in the maintenance, harvest, and creation of edible landscapes that are accessible to everyone. Urban Abundance is currently partnered with five fruit tree orchards in the Vancouver area to coordinate the seasonal maintenance, harvest, and donation of the fruit to the food bank, and holds workshops and other events throughout the year to engage community members in their food sovereignty.

Harvest VISTA Lynsey Horne got her first small gleans under her belt this spring with a 300 lb harvest of lettuce regrowth and about 100 extra tomato starts from a work party. Working with an organization that primarily gleans in the fall from several community orchard partners around Vancouver, Washington, fresh food donations mostly take place from August-October. That said, Urban Abundance has been shifting its focus from holding work parties and workshops in the orchards, teaching people about fruit tree care, community agriculture, and pollinators to preparing for harvest season and their biggest harvest event and fundraiser of the year Pick-a-Pear-a-thon.

In the five orchards that Urban Abundance has formed partnerships with throughout the past nine years, there are a variety of fruit trees ranging from Bartlett pears, quince, persimmon, and several different apple varieties. Pick-a-Pear-a-thon, the biggest and one of the first harvest events that will take place at the start of the harvest season, happens when the two biggest orchards ripen at the same time. Between the two, there are about 400 Bartlett pear trees, and Urban Abundance’s volunteers have two weeks to pick as many as possible before they start to rot in the middle. They will be harvesting two times a day during those two weeks – it’s all hands on deck!

There have been lots of great opportunities to promote this upcoming harvest season in Vancouver, too. Lynsey has had a presence at multiple days of downtown Vancouver’s awesome weekend markets, and the annual Recycled Arts Festival, which drew a huge crowd and took up the entirety of Esther Short Park for the whole weekend. Urban Abundance is also planning a Pick-a-Pear-a-thon kickoff party at a local restaurant/bar called Brickhouse. This event will have a few special menu items made with Clark County, Washington sourced produce, a pear cider on special, and live music from 3-8. Hopefully, this will be a successful fundraiser, as the non-profit will receive the proceeds from the local menu items and the pear cider on tap. In all, the activities have very much shifted for VISTA Lynsey Horne, from orchard maintenance work parties and workshops to marketing, doing outreach, and recruiting harvest volunteers, but this harvest season is looking like it’s going to be a great one!

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A FRESH new table at the Made in Georgia Festival, giving FRESH information about gleaning

10.07.2019 in AmeriCorps VISTA, Georgia, Harvest Against Hunger, Society of Saint Andrew

Miracle Wilson joined Society of St. Andrew as a VISTA/Program Coordinator in Atlanta, GA. This nonprofit organization serves its community by providing gleaned fresh produce back into the community through the involvement and awareness of community members. Going into a new area, metro Atlanta, they seek to bring the community together and bring awareness to fight hunger for themselves, their neighbors, and for the state of Georgia.

The last week in June was a hot one for north Georgia where the temperatures reached about 95 degrees and higher over the week! On June 29-30th Miracle Wilson went to Young Harris, GA to set a booth up at the 2nd Made in Georgia Festival, bringing awareness to food insecurity in their region. Northern Georgia has many cities and towns that spread out due to the terrain they are a part of, the Appalachian Mountain, which creates challenges to accessing fresh food. With thousands of attendees between Saturday and Sunday, Miracle saw this as a great opportunity to network and possibly recruit volunteers. This was the first time Society of St. Andrew had been a part of an event in north Georgia, especially at an event where most of the other booths had something to sell or offer.

Expectations for the booth were moderate, but within the first 30 minutes the table was booming with interest, and people wanted to hear more about food insecurity in their communities and how they could help. Several families came by and talked with Miracle, and studied a map of Georgia that highlighted the food insecure areas. Some people even shared that some areas were much worse than what the map had projected. This was very refreshing because the festival, not only sold products but also had people become educated on food waste happening in Georgia. Although Miracle had nothing to “offer” she did have a lot of information to offer that will help those in need.

Not only did Miracle speak with to her fellow Georgians but also people from Florida and Alabama who seeks to carry out their interest with Society of St. Andrew branches in each of those states. Miracle’s focus was making connections and just hoping to get the word out, but all expectations were exceeded. Five people were even so thankful for her presence that they donated money to the organization, and many others suggested farms and other places for potential gleanings. Miracle spread the word about food insecurity in north Georgia and gave people the opportunity to be involved and volunteer to beat hunger in their state.

~Another great June highlight: Miracle received her first donations as a VISTA, which included watermelons and peaches!

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